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Microsoft Media Center’s Extenders Get 2nd Chance

Microsoft gave the Media Center Extender platform another chance with the public relaunch of the platform at the DigitalLife show, held here last month, with partners Hewlett-Packard Linksys, D-Link and Niveus Media.

Media Center Extenders were first introduced in 2004 to enable consumers to move their programming content off their PCs to televisions scattered around their homes. The concept did not fare well at the time, but Microsoft believes the consumer environment is more suitable now, said Keith Laepple, director, consumer electronics partner team.

“Today there is better networking with 802.11n and more compelling content,” he said.

The models each feature dual-band wireless to ensure a clearer signal throughout the home and the Extenders will give access to a new free, ad supported Microsoft/MSN video service that will shortly become available to all Microsoft Vista users, he said. The vast majority of the initial programming consists of short clips from popular cable channels like Discovery, The History Channel and HGTV.

All of these services are now available through Microsoft’s Xbox 360, but Laepple said very little has been done to promote the feature. Despite that, he said, Microsoft has been impressed with the number of Xbox owners who have used these features; however, he declined to give any hard numbers.

The launch partner products were shown to the trade earlier this month at CEDIA, but at unveiling at DigitalLife in September is the first time the general public will get a look at the new devices.

Hewlett-Packard will incorporate extender technology into several of its 42-inch and 47-inch MediaSmart TVs. These TVs already have built-in 802.11n networking and can support the necessary video and music codecs so they will be upgraded sometime in early 2008 with a Media Center Extender software patch giving them full Extender capability, HP said.

Linksys is offering two models: a smaller hardcover-book size version and a second type about twice this size that incorporates a DVD player. These should be on store shelves prior to the holidays with $299 and $349 suggested retail prices, respectively.

The D-Link model is about the size of a standard A/V component. Pricing and shipping information were not available at press time.

Details on the Niveus offering were expected to be released at the show.

Laepple said other products, like DVD players, are expected to be introduced with Media Center Extender technology so consumers do not have to add an additional box to their overburdened living rooms.

The new extenders will work with most cable services, but at this time not with digital satellite or IPTV services like FIOS, Laepple said.

Microsoft’s marketing campaign will center on a new Web site being launched this week and the company will add on separate programs with its launch partners.

Perhaps the biggest issue surrounding the Extenders is where they will be merchandised. Microsoft and Linksys were still working with retailers to decide if they should go with the PCs, TVs or in their own section of the store.